[Tweeters] The Perils of a Chickadee Nesting - Attack of the Douglas Squirrel...!

John Tubbs johntubbsmb at gmail.com
Sun May 31 23:18:48 PDT 2015

Hi folks,

It's been some time since I posted, but the last two days provided some
backyard drama that some of you might be interested in. We've been in our
new house in Lacey for about a year now, and have put up the requisite bird
amenities in the backyard, which include three nest boxes on two trellises.

A pair of Black-capped Chickadees began investigating two of the boxes a
couple weeks ago and settled on the lone box on one of the two trellises.
Everything seemed to be going swimmingly, with comings and goings seeming
to indicate successful egg-laying and now probably nestlings since neither
of the pair has been staying inside as one would expect if incubation were
still happening.

Then came yesterday. I noticed that one of our neighborhood Douglas
Squirrel's had taken an interest in the nest box and was chewing around the
edges of the nest hole. The chickadee pair of course took exception to
this, scolding and dive-bombing the squirrel - literally whacking it. The
squirrel stopped several times briefly but then started up again, and I
began to worry that it was starting to delay critical feeding of the
presumed young in the nest. So I attacked the squirrel while it was busily
gnawing away first by attempting to scare it. Apparently I'm not very
intimidating because that worked only very briefly before he was back. So
I brought out the heavy artillery - our garden hose set to 'jet'. Said
dampened squirrel beat feet to the nearby woodlot and I figured that was
the end of the story. Nope. We came back after a dinner out last night
and I went out to check the box, and the squirrel had been back at work.
Unfortunately this time, the entrance hole had been chewed almost
sufficiently large to allow the squirrel to enter. Only the inside part of
the hole still was the original size and it was clear that it would only be
a matter of minutes until the squirrel would finish the job the next day
(today) and that would be the end of the brood.

>From all appearances, the squirrel acted as if it was intent on predating

the nest. I always thought of Douglas Squirrels are nice, peaceable cone
seed eaters and not predatory carnivores, but I'm questioning that having
watched the determination with which he was trying to gain entrance to the

Even if he was just looking for a cozy siesta shack, surely the disruption
would have caused nest failure had he made it in. So, last night was spent
strategizing how to intervene, early this morning before the breakthrough
could occur. One option was trapping the squirrel and relocating it. Then
I wondered if that squirrel might be feeding young and I could cause
another nesting failure unintentionally. So it seemed the only option was
trying to render the entrance hole non-chewable, without causing nest
abandonment during the process.

It would have to be done with whatever supplies were already in the garage
because we weren't going to be able to continually guard the nest box
(water hose at the ready) until Home Depot opened this morning. I
concocted a makeshift solution, which involved cutting four strips of steel
'hanging straps' (for pipes, etc.) into the right length, and finding
screws that were not too long but had heads big enough to not slip through
the pre-punched holes in the hanging straps. A battery-powered drill (I
hoped) would thread and seat the screws quickly without too much
disturbance of the box.

Off to bed and set the alarm clock for early morning...then this morning it
was out to give the fix a try. I apparently beat the squirrel out of bed
because the hole was in the same condition as the night before, so I set up
the stepladder and went to work, 'framing' the entrance hole so that the
distance between opposite straps was the original hole diameter. Then I
sat down to watch what happened.

On cue, about half an hour later, along came the squirrel who immediately
was on the nest box to finish the project. Mom and dad chickadee scolded
and dove, sometimes causing the squirrel to retire for a brief break only
to come back. However, now he was trying to gnaw steel strapping, not soft
wood - and he certainly appeared to be getting very frustrated. One more
blast with the water hose hastened the eviction process and he ran off.

Now the suspense was whether the parents would accept the modified nest
hole. The first attempt resulted in the bird flaring at the hole and
alighting nearby to inspect what it clearly recognized as different. Then
it flew off, and later tried again - still wouldn't enter. Finally, one of
the birds bellied up to the bar and went in, and the rest of the day as we
were working on gardening and periodically checking the box, there was no
repeat appearance from the squirrel, and the bird's feeding forays appeared
to resume as normal.

Hopefully before long, we'll see some fledglings out and about begging to
be fed!

Anybody out there ever heard of bird nest predation by Douglas Squirrels?
Maybe it thought the birds were caching food in there and wanted to raid
the pantry? Or was it just really gung ho for a cozy resting spot, or
possible nest location of its own?

John Tubbs
Lacey, WA
johntubbs AT comcast DOT net
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